Ben Wilson is a white man, with short blonde hair and a beard.

Ben Wilson, Extant’s Trainee Artistic Director, 2024

Dear Dame Judi Dench, 

You don’t know me. I am writing this letter/blog post because I read in the press recently that you are quitting acting because of your sight. This upset me for several reasons. 

Firstly, you are actual Judi Dench. You are amazing. I recently watched Philomena again, for about the 27th time, and your performance in that film will never cease to break my heart. And I cannot even put into words the profound effect that your performance as Lady Macbeth opposite Ian McKellen had on me when I saw the film of that production as a teenager. I am pretty sure the majority of the population of the entire world could tell you similar stories about how your work has blown us all away over the years. 

Secondly, I am blind, and I am about a decade and a half into my career as an actor and director in theatre. It’s going alright. Some ups and downs along the way but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Things are tough out there for blind actors. It’s really bloody hard. Inaccessible theatre venues and film sets, scripts presented to us in inaccessible formats and a hell of a lot of prejudice. A hell of a lot of people have told me over the years that I can’t be an actor because I am blind. It is downright impossible to get an audition for a role that doesn’t specifically say it’s a blind character. Often, it’s hard not to think that the theatre industry doesn’t want me and people like me and you. But the theatre industry’s failure to accommodate and welcome blind actors is not our fault but theirs. It sounds like, based on your recent comments, you are struggling with this battle, and that sucks. I’m sorry to hear that. Going blind has a whole host of challenges from the practical and every day to the mental and emotional that at times can seem insurmountable. 

Like you, when I lost my eyesight, I thought that was the end of my acting career. I was just graduating from drama school and taking my first steps out into the world. But, with a lot of hard work, a lot of patience and a lot of collaboration and learning from others, I genuinely believe I’m a better actor now than I was when I could see. And I could audio describe my awards cabinet to you to prove it.  

I currently have the joy of working for Extant, Britain’s leading theatre company of blind and visually impaired artists. For over 25 years Extant has been working with brilliant visually impaired artists and supporting people to thrive as actors without the need for eyesight. Whether they are brand-new and taking their first steps into the creative world or they’ve got decades worth of experience. 

So, what I’m saying is you are not alone. We get it. There are a lot of blind and visually impaired people out there forging careers as actors and creatives. From the west end to soap operas to drag to circus and everything in between, the depth of blind talent out there is off the charts. We understand. We sympathise. We empathise. If you want to be in the Theatre Blindys WhatsApp group just let me know. 

But I also need to say, I hope you’re not offended by this, I am a bit annoyed at you. The theatre industry treats visually impaired artists terribly. They don’t believe in us. So, the last thing we need is one of the highest profile, superstar actors and national treasures saying publicly that blind people can’t be actors. That’s not true. We can. We deserve the same opportunities that everyone else gets, and with your platform, experience, and talent you could be a part of the change. You could work with the visually impaired community and be an ambassador for us in the world of theatre and film. We need one. Imagine what a production could achieve with you as the lead role, leading a cast of brilliant blind and visually impaired actors. Giving us a platform to show the world what we can do. I honestly think that would change the world. 

So, Judi, this is my invitation to you, from both me as an individual artist and on behalf of Extant. We are here. We know how to support blind people with their challenges in the industry. We can introduce you to a whole community of people who know how to do it, who can support you in finding a way to work without your sight. If you let us, the visually impaired theatre community will add so much joy and richness to your life. And, if after listening to what we have to say, learning from our experience and educating yourself on the wisdom of the vision impaired community you still think it is time to retire, then fair enough. We will all mark the end of an incredible, sensational, and memorable career. You will have changed theatre, film, and TV forever. But please make that choice from as informed a place as possible and don’t write yourself off until you’ve given it a go with our help. 

With all the love and solidarity in the world, 

Your biggest fan, 

Benjamin Wilson


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